Jen­nifer Yee Collinson in­tro­duces some of her favourite Asian veg­eta­bles.

Cuisine - - CONTENTS -

Jen­nifer Yee Collinson de­mys­ti­fies Asian greens

SURE, THESE DAYS every­one’s fa­mil­iar with bok choy, but now a much wider ar­ray of Asian veg­eta­bles is avail­able at green­gro­cers and mar­kets across the coun­try. For some peo­ple, fig­ur­ing out what these mys­te­ri­ous greens are and what on earth to do with them can seem like it’s not worth the effort, but their dis­tinc­tive flavours lend them­selves bril­liantly to ev­ery­day cook­ing. So come on, show them off – serve and dress young leaves like you would any leafy salad or cook them like you would spinach, broc­coli or cab­bage. If you re­mem­ber noth­ing else, Asian veg­eta­bles like to be “hot and steamy”. Also called Chi­nese mat­ri­mony vine, the long and slen­der, un­branched woody stems are cov­ered in small oval leaves. The plant has mauve flow­ers which form small elon­gated deep re­do­r­ange berries (wolf or gogi berries) that are dried and used in Chi­nese cer­e­mo­nial chicken dishes or the fa­mous “drunken” chicken. They are usu­ally sold in bunches with 30cm-50cm-long stems. To pre­pare, pull the ten­der leaves off the cen­tral stalk, tak­ing care of any thorns as you do so. Wash the leaves by swish­ing in a tub of wa­ter and drain. Wilt the leaves as you would for spinach – in a hot pan with a driz­zle of oil – or add to clear broths, pork or chicken stock or miso for a com­fort­ing bowl of good­ness. The leaves are mildly bit­ter.

CHI­NESE BROC­COLI OR CHI­NESE KALE (GAI LAAN/ GAI LAN/KAI LAN) Bras­sica ol­er­acea, Al­boglabra group

This pop­u­lar veg­etable ap­pears on nearly ev­ery Chi­nese restau­rant menu. Once you have bought your bunch of gai laan, trim the stems at the point where you can punc­ture the stalk with your fin­ger nail, or peel any tougher ends prior to us­ing. The leaves and white flower buds are edi­ble, but choose young stems where the buds are tiny. Of­ten served as long slen­der stems or cut into more man­age­able lengths, it has a taste sim­i­lar to broc­col­ini. Gai laan can be stir-fried with a splash of gin or Shaox­ing wine; or blanched, drained and served with a dressing or with slices of gar­lic or finely juli­enned ginger and oys­ter sauce. I am sure this was the best ploy my mother used to en­cour­age us to love veg­eta­bles. This veg­etable has a flat rosette pro­file with dark, glossy rounded leaves that have a bub­bly tex­ture and pale green stems. As they grow close to the ground, rinse by plung­ing the heads of cab­bage vig­or­ously in a basin of wa­ter to dis­lodge any soil. Trim the stems and cook small bunches of this green in a lit­tle wa­ter or chicken stock un­til just wilted. Add to stir-fries or use the small young leaves in a green salad driz­zled with any Asian-style dressing.

FLOW­ER­ING CHI­NESE CAB­BAGE (CHOY SUM) Bras­sica rapa, Chi­nen­sis group

This re­ally should be the new “bok choy”. Pop­u­lar with Chi­nese cooks, this rel­a­tive of rape­seed or mus­tard seed rape is some­times re­ferred to as “yau choi sum” (oil veg­etable hearts). It has glossy grass-green leaves and stems, char­ac­terised by small edi­ble yel­low flow­ers. Choose stems where the buds are still closed. I love these vi­brant greens cooked quickly in a hot pan with a slick of oil and some shred­ded ginger or a bruised clove of gar­lic. Add a cou­ple of ta­ble­spoons of wa­ter just as you hear the sizzle, whack a lid on to cre­ate a steamy en­vi­ron­ment to has­ten the cook­ing and give the leaves a quick toss as they wilt down and turn bright green. You can dress the choy sum with a light driz­zle of sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds if you like, or oys­ter sauce. Add to dumpling soups and stir-fries.

GAR­LAND CHRYSAN­THE­MUM (TUNG HO) Chrysan­the­mum coro­nar­ium

A favourite veg­etable with a dis­tinc­tive flavour, there are sev­eral va­ri­eties pop­u­lar in Chi­nese, South­east Asian and Ja­panese cui­sine. The most read­ily avail­able have leaves that re­sem­ble soft lob­u­lar chrysan­the­mum fo­liage and have a mild floral char­ac­ter when cooked. The Ja­panese va­ri­ety is more frilled. The stalks, leaves and yel­low flower buds are all edi­ble, but choose bunches of greens that have very small closed buds as these can be strongly flavoured. Tung ho are de­li­cious in a clear Asian-style broth, hot­pots or wilted in a pan with a cube or two of fer­mented bean curd (avail­able in jars at Asian food stores).


The bul­bous emerald green stalks and bil­lowy ruf­fled leaves dis­tin­guish this beauty. There are sev­eral va­ri­eties of this mus­tardy cab­bage, vary­ing in size and length of stem. Gai choy has a def­i­nite mus­tardy bite that will vary

in in­ten­sity de­pend­ing on the va­ri­ety. I like to choose in­di­vid­ual cab­bages with fat fleshy hearts to poach in chicken or pork rib broth for a restora­tive bowl of good­ness. My grand­mother would brine and fer­ment these for use as pickled mus­tard leaves, which she shred­ded finely to add a punchy sweet and sour flavour to a pan­fried whole fish. Choose bunches with medium to large leaves if you are us­ing the fresh leaves raw. Tear the leaves or shred like a let­tuce, or use whole leaves to wrap Viet­namese banh xeo pan­cakes (see page 36 for a recipe). For cook­ing, cut the leaves into 4cm-5cm lengths and slice across thicker stalks di­ag­o­nally. Stir-fry with a lit­tle peanut oil and juli­enned ginger.

SHISO OR PERILLA Perilla frutescens

Tech­ni­cally a herb, its culi­nary use ex­tends across Ja­panese, Korean and South­east Asian cuisines. I en­cour­age gar­den­ers to plant this as it read­ily self­sows and once you have it, you will be re­warded for many sea­sons. In the spring and sum­mer, green shiso is sold in Korean or Ja­panese food­stores, and can be found piled into a small stack of leaves sealed in a plas­tic bag in the re­frig­er­a­tor. They don’t freeze well but last for four to five days if stored chilled, wrapped in a damp pa­per towel in a sealed plas­tic bag. Try wrap­ping small morsels of char-grilled meats such as beef, veni­son or lamb in shiso leaf for a nutty, her­bal mouth­ful of de­li­cious­ness. Shiso can also be used to wrap Korean bul­golgi beef or dipped and fried in a crisp tem­pura bat­ter. Red shiso is tra­di­tion­ally used to colour pickled ume­boshi plums, but its un­usual herba­ceous char­ac­ter can be added to many dishes. Try adding thee small leaves or a chif­fon­ade of larger leaves to Asian-stylee noo­dle sal­ads or serve with fresh sashimi, tofu, cold sobaa or rice bowls. If you hap­pen to like mi­cro­greens, sprout some green and red shiso too add to sal­ads or a Viet­namese banh mi-style filled baguette.


Viet­namese cooks call this “morn­ing glory” or wa­ter con­volvu­lus, but it’s also pop­u­lar in Malay and Chi­nese cook­ery. Ong choy lit­er­ally means hol­low-stemmed veg­etable. The plant has long ar­row-shaped leaves and has a sim­i­lar taste to com­mon spinach. As it wilts down sub­stan­tially, al­ways choose a gen­er­ously large bundle of stems and leaves. Wash the wa­ter spinach well, and pre­pare by trim­ming the stems from the leaves and cut­ting into 4cm-5cm lengths. Keep the leaves whole or halve them cross­wise. Flat­ten a clove or two of gar­lic with the blade of a chef’s knife and add to a hot pan driz­zled with 1-2 ta­ble­spoons of veg­etable or peanut oil. Toss the stems briefly un­til just be­gin­ning to colour, add a splash of cold wa­ter and the leaves and con­tinue toss­ing un­til wilted and the stems are ten­der. You may want to add some thinly sliced red chilli with the gar­lic or some fer­mented bean curd at the end of cook­ing, which melts into an unc­tu­ous sauce. This choy is also su­perb added to soups and hot­pots.

GOURDS BIT­TER MELON (FU GWA) Mo­mordica cha­ran­tia

The al­lure of bit­ter melon is not only for its abil­ity to bal­ance salty, sweet and spicy heat but for its cool­ing Yin prop­er­ties when com­bined with other foods within a meal. These orb-shaped green gourds have a knob­bly sur­face likened to croc­o­dile skin! Avail­able in sum­mer, choose medium-sized fu gwa that are firm and bright green and 6cm-7cm in di­am­e­ter. Any smaller and they will be very bit­ter; any larger is fine but they will not store well. Pre­pare these by cut­ting in half length­wise and scoop­ing out the pith and seeds, leav­ing two halves that can be sliced or stuffed. If ma­ture, re­move the seeds and the red fleshy cov­er­ing along with the pith, sep­a­rate the seeds to dry and save for plant­ing next spring. If you pre­fer a milder bit­ter flavour, blanch briefly and re­fresh in cold wa­ter be­fore us­ing. Tra­di­tion­ally stuffed with minced pork, dried shrimps, salted turnip and Chi­nese mush­rooms (shi­itake) be­fore steam­ing, they are equally de­li­cious sliced into half rounds and stir-fried with beef in a gar­licky, ginger and black bean sauce.


Cousin of the loofah gourd, this is distin­guished by deeply grooved ridges and tough outer skin. The gourds can be up to 1 me­tre long but choose ones no big­ger than 4cm-5cm di­am­e­ter to en­sure they are not too ma­ture, or they will be pithy and filled with seeds. Favoured for its silken tex­ture when cooked, it has a mild sweet cu­cum­ber flavour. Peel to re­move the ridges and skin un­til the pale green flesh is re­vealed. Cut in half length­wise and then in thick 2cm ba­tons or di­ag­o­nal slices. Add to soups or stir-fry with juli­enned ginger, chicken and wood­ear fun­gus.


Jen­nifer Yee Collinson was in­tro­duced to the world of Asian greens by her pa­ter­nal grand­mother, who had an ex­ten­sive kitchen gar­den where she grew a wide va­ri­ety of Chi­nese veg­eta­bles for the fam­ily ta­ble. Collinson has been show­ing home cooks and gar­den groups how to choose, pre­pare, cook and eat Asian greens for more than 20 years through tours of Auck­land mar­kets. In her hand­book Dis­cov­er­ing Asian

In­gre­di­ents (2001, Ran­dom House), an en­tire chap­ter is de­voted to help­ing iden­tify the broad range of leafy Asian veg­eta­bles (choy or choi in Can­tonese), as well as mel­ons, gourds and herbs that have be­come more read­ily avail­able across the coun­try in Asian green­gro­cers, su­per­mar­kets, farm­ers’ and com­mu­nity mar­kets.










Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.